For the body hair episode of On the Rag, Alex Casey decided to get waxed for the very first time. This is her story.
It was a terrifying ultimatum. Relax, or have my bum cheeks stick together.
Would they just cling together for a bit? Or be firmly welded shut for the rest of my life? There wasn’t time to inquire: I had to stop clenching, and fast. Do you remember that Matthew Ridge game show The Chair, where contestants had to stay relaxed to win prize money? Now imagine doing that except naked from the waist down, wearing humiliating stripy socks, while a stranger ladles hot wax onto your butt, and you don’t even get any cash at the end.
It’s difficult to decipher when the war on pubes began. Recent history would suggest it kicked off with a 2000 episode of Sex and the City featuring Carrie Bradshaw getting a Brazilian, one that is thought to have inspired so many women to wax that it essentially rid the world of pubic lice. But, then again, there also isn’t a single pube on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, or even any of the Greek vases and urns etc either. Eve? She was all fig leaf, no pubes. And that’s just science.
Despite Vogue telling us that they are now suddenly back in fashion, I can’t remember a recent time that I saw pubes celebrated on any form of screen. You won’t find many on Instagram, where posts featuring pubic hair are removed faster than you can pull a Nad’s strip. You certainly won’t find many in pornography, where hairlessness has become so prevalent that now over 60% of young men surveyed prefer a vagina as bald as Paul Shaffer himself.
You won’t even find that many pubes on Naked Attraction, a dating show which prides itself on showcasing a diverse range of regular bodies. Watching it with my mum last year, her reaction reminded me how normalised the Brazilian look had become for my generation. As the frosted glass went up to reveal a bevvy of hairless vulvas, she screamed “where’s their pubic hair?!” with the frenzy of a parent who can’t find their youngest child at the mall.
She repeated once more, willing the pubes back from their graves.
“WHERE’S THEIR PUBIC HAAAAAIIIIIIIRR?!?!”
Perhaps pube loyalty is in my DNA, because my waxing journey only began last month during our body hair episode of On the Rag. Our director Robyn joked that someone should get a Brazilian on camera. I volunteered, mostly because it ticked every one of the boxes that motivates me to do anything: 1) it’s free, 2) it’s for a story and 3) it will probably be funny. It’s also an intimate area of womanhood shrouded in total secrecy, so why not FILM IT and put it on the internet FOREVER?
It’s fine, I thought at the time. I’ll leave ‘future me’ to deal with actually doing it. We’ll probably all be underwater by the time I have to do it anyway, what with the ice caps and what not.
Unfortunately, civilisation had rudely not been swallowed into the sea a mere two weeks later, when I sheepishly plodded into the private room at OFF & ON in Britomart to have the hair on my genitals removed with force. My lovely waxer Claire instructed me to get naked from the waist down, “refresh” with a lady wipe (have to assume that is standard protocol otherwise I will never sleep again) and put on a modesty g-string. A contradictory concept, but a concept nonetheless.
Once all that was in order, all I had to do was press a button by the door to tell Claire she could come back in, then lie down with a towel covering my rude bits. Sounds easy enough, right?
After donning the black paper g-string made out of what felt like a Countdown reusable bag, I scarpered like this, bare-assed, across the room. I pressed the call button on the wall, and dashed back to the waxing table to hide my shame beneath the slightly too-small towel.
Then what felt like hours.
Maybe I hadn’t pressed the button hard enough? I couldn’t get up to check, what if she opens the door at the exact same time?! There were customers milling outside… they canNOT see my… things. I lay there under the fluorescent lights like a pantsless alien on an autopsy table, trapped beneath a small black towel and my own sense of shame and regret. This was my 127 Hours. I’ll drink my own piss before I get off this table with my rump out.
Right as I was considering cutting off my own arm with a bobby pin to throw at the call button, Claire breezed back in, flanked by our two-woman camera crew. She asked me to relax my legs – a tall task considering my entire body was entering rigor mortis – and began applying some sort of pre-cleanser oil to my nethers. I asked her if she thought what was happening between us was normal. She tsked. “It’s just maintenance. It’s mainstream now – everybody waxes.”
Several studies have tried to find out what lies beneath. In a 2016 survey of over 3000 women, 62% reported removing all their pubic hair entirely, with only 16% leaving it untouched. Claire, who has been waxing for over 19 years, can attest to the trend. She’s seen landing strips, she’s seen anal bleaching, she’s seen vajazzling, but the classic Brazilian (everything must go) prevails. With a client base of 85% women, she reckons she does about 3500 annually.
Using a wooden stick, Claire slathered some warm green wax on my bikini line. I suddenly realised that same wax would have to be coming off very soon. “Shall we do a countdown?” Claire asked. I wanted one, for the drama.
I saw red mist. I saw flaming hellfire. I saw how I was going to die. Then… everything went quiet. The pain had passed. Applying a cold compress, Claire showed me the retired piece of wax. It looked like a hedgehog cosplaying as Legolas. She pointed out the little “socks” on the end of each hair, meaning they were ripped right from the root. My poor hairs looked like they were screaming. “Don’t put my pubes on camera!!” I Exorcist-barked through stress spittle.
Claire then headed south for what I can only describe through gritted teeth as… the undercarriage. The Emperor’s New Modesty G-String had long been shoved to the side. I tried to zone out by focussing on the ceiling. Unfortunately, directly above me was a glass window. I clucked with laughter as I watched myself appear to give birth to an adult woman in its reflection. The physical pain was dull in comparison to that excruciating, unshakable visual.
“These are the ouchie bits,” Claire warned as she spread wax on what Big Mouth taught me is called the mons pubis. The front bit. You know the one. These hairs were my day ones, and they were NOT happy about being ripped from their lovely bed whence they have laid for well over a decade. She ripped, and I felt a single hot tear pool in the corner of my eye. “Is my entire vagina attached to that piece of wax?” I whimpered. “Kind of,” consoled Claire.
“It will be especially hot and red today because of your pale skin as well.” Insult, meet injury.
Once the front of house was as bald as the day I was born, there was an eerie moment of stillness in the room. Then, I began to feel it. Ting. Ting. Ting. Claire had the tweezers out and was pluck, pluck, plucking on heaven’s door. I asked her why we put ourselves through this bizarre, specific kind of ritual torture. As it turns out, her workplace did a survey of 500 women asking them that exact question. 92% said they waxed because it made them feel good.
“Are we going to do the back?” Claire asked, euphemistically. Before I knew it, I was lying on my stomach and being instructed to urgently relax or I would end up with the dreaded uni-bum. I thought of the women who voiced private concerns to me about potentially doing a poo during their wax. That couldn’t have been further down my to-do list. If anything, I was so clenched I would be more likely to do a poo out of my mouth.
Rip one. Rip two. RIP me. It was all over.
Claire talked me through the aftercare, but I couldn’t really focus. She had done an incredible, gentle, careful job – all the hair really was gone. They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. It looked and felt smooth, which my Veet lizard brain immediately interpreted as an improvement, but the appearance remained deeply alien to me. It looked like something I had seen in a nature documentary once, but I couldn’t quite make it out in my memory.
Suddenly, my mind pulled focus. It looked like a pink Amazon River Dolphin.
Dolphins aside, the body hair removal industry is slowly welcoming more male clientele, with OFF & ON trademarking the ‘Brozilian’ treatment – roughly $20 more than the women’s version – to meet demand. “I think men are now tuning in a little bit more to what their hair needs are and where they feel uncomfortable,” said Claire. “Your dentist probably has one, he just doesn’t talk about it. The taxi driver probably has one, but they just don’t talk about it.”
Women definitely talk about it. For weeks before and after, my wax was all I talked about with basically all of the women in my life. Some, who had waxed since high school, were shocked I had never had it done before and seemed genuinely excited for me. Others were terrified by it, forever put off by the pain and just the mere concept. Others were just curious as to how we managed to film it (spoiler: just like how they film One Born Every Minute, except the only baby is me.)
Their range of reactions confirmed that, despite Posh Spice’s proposed legislation that every woman get a wax from the age of 15, there are plenty of different perspectives on body hair out there and none of them are the “right” one or the “feminist” one. While some women source power from showing off their hairy pits and legs, you’ll find just as many who are emboldened by making the choice to groom and, if you’re Jennifer Love Hewitt, bejewel. I don’t think I will be waxing so dramatically again, but it’s not because of feminism. It’s because I don’t like the breeze.
As my river dolphin evolved to Holly Hunter in Top of the Lake (so wispy, so white, so long??), I got extremely bogged down in what it all meant. I thought about the kid at my intermediate who pointed out my hairy arms. I thought about the girls at high school getting shamed by their boyfriends for having pubic hair. I thought about all the women I know who feel like unbeatable sex demons after a waxing session. I thought about the mons pubis pain that nearly made me cry.
Because although that hurt a lot, it wasn’t nearly as excruciating as the impossible burden of deciding whether each of our cosmetic choices is adequately feminist or not.
After carrying so much of that angst myself, I’ve made peace with the idea that there’s no big need to fret about your body hair either way. Not everyone on Earth is getting a Brazilian except for you, and not every proud, hairy, feminist is throwing you judgey eyes for waxing either. Whichever choice you make, as long as you are making it for yourself, is probably going to be the right one. So just breathe out, relax, and be thankful that your bum cheeks haven’t stuck together. Yet.
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